Regulatory and Banking Reform — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:04 pm on 16th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 5:04 pm, 16th June 2011

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, first, for making a clear admission that the tripartite system failed and therefore something needed to be done about it, and, secondly, for welcoming various of the other aspects of what we are doing, including our approach to bank failure and pre-legislative scrutiny. However, the fact that he starts with bracketing together a recognition of the failure of the tripartite system and then questioning the approach taken by my right honourable friend the Chancellor and others of us who are now in the Treasury and what we did in the past is remarkable. We got on to the case in opposition immediately the crisis hit and started to work practically on learning the lessons.

I completely agree with the noble Lord that fine work of analysis was done by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, particularly in his FSA report, and others, but the previous Government had a couple of years in which they signally failed. If they recognised the failure of the tripartite system, they certainly did not tell us then. They had two years in which they could have established an independent commission to look at banking. They could have done the work to analyse what would be a better system but they did none of that. Instead, my right honourable friend the Chancellor, when in opposition commissioned work from people, including myself. We did a considerable amount of work that put us in a good position, so that when we got into office we launched the rounds of consultation that have led to today's White Paper. It is not therefore a question of hindsight being a fine thing but of getting on, learning the lessons and starting down the track of implementing a better system.

The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, went on to question the powers of the FPC. I appreciate that the White Paper is a long document to have absorbed in the past few hours and point to the discussion in it about the possible tools and powers that the FPC may have. In order to move forward on that, we have asked the FPC to come forward with proposals in the next few months-I expect them in the third quarter-for the tools and powers that it believes will be necessary and appropriate to enable it to carry out its function. For the avoidance of all doubt, I will confirm that the FPC will have no role in setting fiscal policy.

The noble Lord then raised the issue of macroprudential and microprudential risks. I thought that his analysis was interesting. Clearly there is a very difficult issue about where the micro and macro areas stop and start and how they relate to each other, which goes to the heart of the problem with the tripartite arrangement. The Bank of England was clearly responsible for analysis of the macro risks but was not given by the previous Government the tools to deal with the consequences of the problems that it found. On the other hand, the Financial Services Authority was responsible for the micro risks-and never the twain shall meet. I am surprised that the noble Lord does not give the Government credit for the fact that we have brought the macro and micro together under the umbrella of the Bank of England precisely to address the problem that he identifies.

The noble Lord mentioned toxic products. Some of these may have been related to macro factors, but one has only to look at the scandal of PPI-not to mention a string of other products wheeled out by the financial services sector over the past few years-to understand that toxic products are most often generated at firm level, and it is appropriate that the conduct authority should have powers to ban them.

The noble Lord went on to ask about the definition of the ring fence. The question of the ring fence should be left to the appropriate experts. The Independent Commission on Banking, chaired by Sir John Vickers, will in the second phase of its work focus on precisely how the ring fence will work; that is what it is doing at the moment. On the specific question of whether the ring fence will apply to EU-passported banks, the FSA's and in future the PRA's full rules will apply only to banks headquartered in the UK. EU bank branches that are passported into the UK have as their lead authority the EU home regulation, not the UK host regulation: therefore, any ICB proposals would be implemented consistent with EU law. That is one of the principles enshrined in my honourable friend's Statement.

The question of Northern Rock was raised. As I said, we want to see a competition and are required under state aid rules to have one that is fair and open to all parties. We would welcome mutuals participating in that bidding process. As to whether a mutual outcome would be a greater buttress of stability, that is open to question. Any bidder for Northern Rock or participant in our banking system needs to demonstrate a level of financial stability that meets the regulatory requirements. I think one should not draw a distinction between different categories of institution on that basis.

The last point raised by the noble Lord was about Basel III and the Government's support for the higher capital requirements under it, I think pointing out that the capitalisation of the Irish banks exceeded the Basel III limits. That enables me to confirm that the Government's position on this is that for too-big-to-fail banks a capital buffer above Basel III is appropriate to ensure their resilience.